The Illusionist (France/ UK, 2010)

Directed by: Sylvain Chomet. I absolutely love cell animation, partly because it looks so damn good, feels warm, invokes a century of animation, brings me back to childhood, or perhaps just because you see so damn little of it these days. After seeing The Triplets of Belleville, I think you’d be forgiven for saying things like “Sylvain Chomet is a genius.” This film is at least as good and perhaps even better. Chomet is perhaps the director in the world today who is actually, really, truly interested in using character movement and the last vestiges of mime techniques in order to tell a story. In Triplets, he showed us how he can take us through a story full of suspense and emotion and the rest of it, with barely any dialogue. With this film, Chomet adds camera distance to his repertoire: most of the film is shot in long shots or medium long shots that most filmmakers would only use as establishing shots before going in for close ups. I absolutely loved this technique—I’m actually really tired of film editing that tells you how you’re supposed to feel by looking at the character’s faces and seeing how they feel. In this film, Chomet lets you watch the characters in their setting, as a whole, and somehow rather than alienating you from the characters, it endears you to them. It’s as if, like a modern day Ozu, he’s slowly stripping away the kinds of filmmaking techniques that filmmakers usually use in an effort to prove how much emotional impact can still be had with all of these distancing techniques—animation, gestures and murmurs instead of dialogue, and camera distance to prevent a typical facial recognition with the characters. Even with all of those “obstacles”, this film still manages to convey characters worth caring about, and in my opinion, these animated mute characters have more heart than the entire casts of most live action movies. I’m only marginally ashamed to say that I almost choked up for a second when that lanky magician wandered up to the hills to set his pudgy little rabbit free. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, a cartoon rabbit. I’m officially in the Chomet camp, and I’ll watch anything he does.


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